Faa’izah Hafeeza Mustafa’s desire to have a positive impact and her dream of practicing the law to make it come true helped her remain determined despite many challenges, and although it took a lot of perseverance, she recently became Chief Justice Admitted to the bar (ag) Roxane George.
“My family members and friends said, ‘So Faaz, if the law doesn’t work, what’s Plan B? ‘I said Plan B should go back to Plan A,’ said Mustafa, former sixth grade law teacher. She stayed true to that statement as she was determined to become a lawyer and the third time proved to be the appeal.
Lawyer, Faa’izah Mustafa
“I told myself that if I didn’t make it this third time, it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I then met the best contract law lecturer Guyana has ever produced, Miss Christine McGowan. We met at my colleague’s bar call and she asked what was going on in my life. I explained my challenges and told her about my third experiment. She encouraged me to stand firm.
“With her repeatedly playing words, I have tried seriously to cover everything that is required for the exam, including the areas of law that I did not like. Realizing that corner cutting wasn’t going to make me successful, I practiced my answers and wrote until I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. My students looked up to me too, and I couldn’t disappoint them. They also wrote their KAP [Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations]. I am proud to say that my students have all been successful. My classes got a 100% pass rate on the CAPE, and as for me, you might be wondering? Well, I got accepted into Hugh Wooding Law School. “
It was also McGowan who applied to the court for admission to the bar on behalf of Mustafa.
Mustafa recalled that when faced with choosing a career path, it was a dilemma as there were three areas she could venture into: journalism, entrepreneurship, and law. She said that she admired the journalists on TV and was delighted with the fact that they had the opportunity to travel to other countries. Meanwhile, she loved the idea of becoming an entrepreneur and being her own boss, but feared the risks involved in owning a business, although she remains open to that option. However, what led to her final decision was when her father, a justice of the peace, hosted an event where she was invited to speak. After that, some people she met at the event noticed that she would make a great lawyer. It was the confirmation she needed.
In 2016 Mustafa graduated from the University of Guyana (UG) with a Bachelor of Laws. Two years later, when she should have finished her law degree, she had just enrolled with Hugh Wooding because of a lack of money and other challenges.
One of those challenges was that she was among 80 UG graduates who wanted to apply for law school. However, the most sought-after, Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad only accepted the top 25, and it ranked 41st on that list.
Mustafa decided to take the entrance exam to secure a place in law school. She was told that applicants would normally fail the entrance exam because they had to remember the content of five courses during the three and a half hour exam period, but she put that aside and took the exam. Her worst fears were confirmed when she failed.
In her opinion the questions weren’t that difficult, it was the size of the content that she had to cover in the allotted time that was overwhelming.
In 2017, Mustafa offered another opportunity to take the exam. After identifying her weakest areas, she decided that it would be best to focus on two of the five courses that were more challenging for her. Until then, she was working full time and was unable to give everyone her attention. However, this was not good enough and again it was unsuccessful.
After thinking about it, she found that she needed to lighten her workload in order to focus on all of the subject areas. The only way to do this was to quit her job, but she needed the money to make a living. Still, she resigned and was able to secure a part-time position with the Department of Education as a sixth grade law teacher at Mackenzie High School in Linden. With the extra time she was able to cover all five subject areas well and secure a place at Hugh Wooding Law School.
Mustafa announced that this victory, great as it was for her, was short-lived when “Lack of finances came back to haunt me”. It took her $ 6 million to continue her studies, plus extra cash to cover housing, books, and living expenses. The woman stated that she sought support from numerous organizations, but many of them told her they had already approved their budgets for the year and they could not help her, some never replied.
“Well, my mother is an Ahmadiyya Muslim and my father is a Shiite Muslim, so I reached out to both masjids,” she said. “I managed to get a partial loan from the Ahmadiyya Jamaat as well as a scholarship for my first year.” Her grandmother also threw in part of her pension, and she prepared to leave for Trinidad with only part of the funds she needed. “I ran by faith,” she said.
Three days before his departure for Trinidad, Mustafa had no real plans for accommodation. She contacted the Shia Masjid and was connected to members in Trinidad who provided her with shelter for a full year.
By the end of the first year she didn’t have the remaining funds, but then she managed to get a full scholarship, or so she thought. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances her donor suddenly had to grapple with, it fell through and she thought she had run out of options.
Mustafa was certain that the registrar would contact her at any time to inform her that she could no longer continue her studies. Then, when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, the coronavirus pandemic struck. She was on the verge of losing her mind but testified that it was God who kept her.
She then decided to approach the school and explain her plight. Mustafa was pleasantly surprised when she was told she could finish her studies, but her law education certificate would be withheld until she could pay the amount owed. It was something to work with.
During her time with Hugh Wooding, Mustafa participated in on and off campus activities. In her freshman year, she was a member of the Muslim Students’ Association, the Hugh Wooding Law School Choir, the Environmental Law Club, and the Human Rights Committee. Her second year workload was more demanding, but she still stayed in three of the associations. It was an enriching experience, she said.
Although Mustafa does not have a legal education certificate, she was able to secure a job at the Supreme Court of Guyana. However, by the time she was admitted to the bar, the attorney had already repaid her loan and received her legal education certificate.
She credits her success to family, friends, the various masjids, Hugh Wooding Law School, her colleagues, and everyone who has helped her in one way or another. One of those special people is Abdul Rasheed Kellman, who was her fiancé while studying. The couple tied the knot on their return last year.
Mustafa lives by the quote “Success is my birthright”. “The secret to success is being stronger than my setbacks and not letting bad grades or bad experiences demotivate or prevent me from achieving what I’m rightly entitled to,” she said. “Success is not for the frail or moody, but for those who are willing to persevere while remaining true to Almighty God.”